A major source of weakness in the course before, as I saw it, was that it focused a bit too heavily just on seeing texts from a philosophical point of view. Students enjoyed the course, but I personally found it a bit stiff. I felt that students didn’t really come away appreciating the Asian component as much as they could have. Instead, they got a course in ethics using Asian texts. To fix this, I though, I needed to make the course more interdisciplinary. So I’ve made some changes. Not huge ones, but I’ve made a start.
The major alteration in the syllabus is the inclusion of guest speakers. I invited six professors to come and speak to the class on a variety of topics (I tried to insert the acctual schedule for the semester, but Blogspot can't handle it -- so I'll just point out that we cover these major texts, first Analects, then Dhammapada, then Bhagavad Gita, then Tao Te Ching, then Zhuangzi, with some other smaller authors put in here and there. If you'd like to see the schedule more specifically and how the course is laid out, see my reproduced post at my own blog, here, where the semester scheduled readings table came out fine in the post: http://akuindeed.com/?p=2018)
In any event, with respect to each talk, here’s what I was envisioning:
1. History talk: students reading the Analects (and the Tao Te Ching, later on) need to have some appreciation and understanding of the specific challenges (understood in a variety of ways) that existed for people living in pre-Qin China.
2. Meditation talk: this interactive session on Buddhist meditation techniques (students are expected to actually do the techniques in class) occurs right after reading about it and studying its importance in Dhammapada. Reading about meditation and its uses is one thing, doing it is another!
3. Psychology talk: the point here was to show students that ancient Confucian thought is not dead, or confined to the ancient Chinese world. Can key Confucian beliefs and ways of thinking be seen in modern China? If so, how would you set up psychological experiments to test for the presence of Confucian thinking? Also here some emphasis on how these results might affect modern concerns (for instance, cross-cultural discussions of human rights) will be highlighted.
4. Literature talk: anyone who teaches Asian texts cannot help but admit that there are obvious literary dimensions to these works; as such, dissecting them simply from a philosophical point of view is short sighted. Specifically, this talk will focus on the beauty of reading Zhuangzi from a literary perspective.
5. Art talk: when trying to think about what (if any) differences exist between “western” and “eastern” ways of thinking about the world (or differences between various “eastern” ways of thinking), looking at art can be revealing. The ways that the artist comes at the work and develops it reveals a lot about his/her conceptual presuppositions. This talk would highlight some of those possible ways of approaching Asian artwork.
6. Calligraphy talk: my hope here was that, in starting the Tao Te Ching, students would come to feel the Chinese language by trying to work on writing the characters themselves. In the class, we focus for a day on the first poem of the TTC, so in this class the hope is that students can learn to appreciate Chinese philosophy even more by having an actual experience in trying to see what goes into actually writing it (they would focus on the first line of the TTC, which has few characters.
In trying to make Asian studies (in this case Asian Ethics) more interdisciplinary, I’ve started at the ground floor, obviously – spicing up the semester with talks from people with expertise in Asian studies from other areas. Of course, a more ambitious effort would go much further than this in trying to make such courses truly interdisciplinary. It’s a big task, however.
If anyone is willing to leave their thoughts, I’m curious about (a) what your thoughts are about this current attempt I am trying out this semester (on any level – for example, any other possible talks you would try to include, in an ideal world? An obvious glaring problem in this schedule is the lack of talks about India, but this was more of a scheduling problem with the professor I was hoping to bring in). But also (b): how could the project of making courses like this one more interdisciplinary be conducted in an even bolder and far more innovative and ambitious way?